Outages create nomads in search of electricity

The tree outlet Will Wheeler and his friends found.

Superstorm Sandy left more than seven million people without power. That's quite a crowd desperate to charge their smartphones, computers and all the rest of their gear. I should know: I am one of the nomads looking for a working power outlet.

People don't usually say this about me, but I'm power-hungry. My home in Westchester County, N.Y., lost electricity on Monday afternoon. To power my smartphone, I first tried a crank radio I received for donating to a public radio pledge drive. It's supposed to charge it, but that didn't work out so well.

So, I resorted to an overpriced generator: my car. As I cranked the transmission, I felt relieved to have some form of power. But soon, it felt incredibly wasteful.

About two million people in New York state alone are without power, and many of those are on the move in search of electricity. In Manhattan, Will Wheeler and his roommates from the Lower East Side found salvation outside a Midtown office building.

“This is the only port we were able to find within 10 blocks of here,” Wheeler says. “A couple of banks had them, but we just found the base of a tree that had an outlet that was working.”

Yes -- he said "a tree."

"It is a little crazy but I think we were smart," adds his friend, Kimi Winkler. "Because a lot of the places that were open were, packed full. So we’re going to charge up here.” The group bought an extension cord and were charging a MacBook, five iPhones and a BlackBerry.

At the New Yorker Hotel on 34th Street, powerless nomads packed the lobby and plugged into every available outlet. One of them, Kim Garrett, a nurse, left her downtown apartment before dawn.

“I just took my flashlight, my devices, my cords, my rain boots, my raincoat and just headed north,” she says. “Kept walking until I found somewhere that might have a plug, and the New Yorker Hotel was the first one.”

She says she got lucky: She even found a chair to sit in.

In Brooklyn, Ethan Gould describe how he rigged his own electrical solution. 

"It's eight AA batteries in a configuration hooked up to two solar panels, which can be attached to USB or iPhone cables," says Gould.

I don’t have anything that fancy. I’m just waiting for municipal crews to clear the trees blocking my street.

The tree outlet Will Wheeler and his friends found.

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I would not call a car an "overpriced generator". You can use it for more than just powering up your iPhone. You can, with a low price $90 dollar inverter, run your freezer, fridge, some lights, even a small heater. (not all at the same time of course) And unlike a generator, you can get in it and drive away. A lot more versatile than a $3,000 generator.


The inventor of AC current Nikola Tesla died penniless in the New Yorker hotel in 1943. Thought it was interesting that the woman in the article went there for AC power.

Shows where we depend on such "conveniences" as electricity (relatively new in human history). Having been through hurricanes Alicia and Ike, I've experienced being without and making due for about 10-12 days each without such conveniences
(OK, we had a generator for Ike).
(I experienced tropical storm Allison and hurricane Rita many hours stuck in my car, but those are different stories).

With preparation being hindsight, I offer these suggestions - inventory what you have and count your blessings; share with those in need and accept aid when offered; make sure your food and water are safe.

WATER! This is an important necessity which goes back through all ages.
(Seems the media doesn't stress clean water enough after storms...)

Electricity goes out, water pumps stop (no water pressure);
microbial contamination from flooding brings serious concerns for the health of residents after hurricanes. People need clean water.

In the aftermath, such things are no longer entitlements; they're real needs.
Those affected on the East Coast will need our help and prayers.

After the Storms of the South in 2010 my family and I purchased a couple of the public radio hand crank chargers. (We too resorted to using our vehicles to recharge our various devices) While we got the same message about it not being supported, the battery will take the charge. Just make sure the iPhone is turned off completely when you do it.

You can charge your phone securely for free, courtesy of Brightbox Charge (http://brightboxcharge.com).
If you're at 5th ave and 28th, drop by the Brightbox HQ and charge up for free!
It's two blocks north of the power cut off. There are lots of other bright box chargers around see the map on their webpage. Great idea.... you don't have to babysit you phone while it charges!

Pictures of the free charger can be seen on facebook at:


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